A Week of Disasters




Today is the morning after Remembrance Day, the end of the week of disasters and of crying my eyes out–a Saturday. Even the heavens are soaking us with an intense downpour in this early hour, the light diffuse and the sound of water on metal roof trying to wash all sadness out of our system.






I cried for all those hit hard by the choice of half of the electorate for leading our neighbouring nation, the elected man who loudly announces his Hitleresque thoughts on anyone different from him. The future looks bleak for them and us. Will we face a repeat of history that I barely escaped then? The echo of war, not so long ago, reverberates.

The memories are still there, laid down in documents and drawings of resistance during 1940-1945.


At The Source Of Resistance, The struggle of the town of Ommen against the German occupation 1940-1945. Drawings by Jef Last, editor.



I cried for my father, for my ignorance all those years of who he was, for his life and his troubles from five imminently important years, none of which his children knew. Only when children wish to know–after our fathers are long gone–can we face up to the truth. I wished I had known then, but our parents didn’t speak about their fear, hurt and failure. He is the one with the pipe.



Seventy years passed and truth looks different now, anger and hurt has shifted; survivors pain and guilt died with the dead. All suffered under Hitler, some more so than others, each survivor finding a way for dealing with their realities in an infinite number of ways, from bad to good and everything in between.

Below a sheet of food vouchers from the distribution services, necessary to ensure that  every family got at least some food, as long as stocks lasted. Aardappelen-potatoes, Algemeen–general, Boter–butter, Melk–milk.


I cried for my lost generation, turning from dreamy and ignorant love children to desperately holding on to what they amassed. I cried for our poet with the heartbreaking voice singing goodbye so eloquently for the last years, warning us it will all come to this. I cried for my youth that has unavoidably died with his death.


Grieving, the pain of necessary healing, something we would like to avoid. Nevertheless, we need to feel it, just to become and stay human–complete.


My wish for the coming year is not to escape, but to use all emotions involved in that process, identify them, and then to hold on to strength, to become stronger, so we can stay human and truthful.


This statue in Amsterdam of the Dock worker was erected in remembrance of the wildcat strike of the workers in February 1941 against the treatment of our Jewish Dutch by the German occupational authority. The strike started in the docks of Amsterdam and was instigated by local communist leaders. The Dutch government had already prohibited the Communist Party before the German invasion,  because of the party’s criticism on the government that was interpreted as anti-Dutch and a threat to the stability of the country!

The real danger was not the Dutch communist party, but the neighbouring nation and its Nazi leader who already loudly announced his plans then to have an army and fight for its right, making the nation great again, planning to overrun the continent.

Lest we forget…..







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The last Fortnight of a working life


One can only spend so much time listening to the radio with headphones on, reading emails, soliciting work from colleagues, and trying to come up with something to do, before boredom sets in. I wrote this story while listening to the radio show Definitely Not The Opera with Sook Yin Lee life broadcast from Saskatoon while texting on WhatsApp with my girlfriend in Amsterdam, sitting at my desk trying to be busy, doing what’s expected from a good civil servant. What’s to complain about, you ask? I hate boredom, can’t stand it; I want–no, need–to be busy!



I have become an inconvenient employee at the end of my work life, caught up with all the work available within and outside the parameters of my job description, looking desperately to fill my day with useful activities. My new supervisor further restricted the scope of my activities, and anyway, she is too busy catching up with her new role to wreck her brain on finding something for me to do.


Sure, purely for something to do, I could try to decorate an ugly Christmas sweater at work with sewn-on applications, so I can wear one–a request from upper management in an attempt to spread some holiday cheer—but no, that’s not me. I already decorated my office with last year’s stuff, but this year my window is squeaky-clean as well, because I have lots of time to cover for the failing janitor. You see, I am on the count down, with fourteen days until retirement, after a working life of 50+ years that started full time and full speed at age nineteen. With a bit of luck I get to be retired for another 20 years joining the silver wave.



Not many of my personal items are left to pack, as I dismantled my 2.5×5 meter spot—half the size of a prison cell, but more comfortable—that I occupied for the last  stretch of my working life. Half of my waking hours are spent at work, and yet the space was hard to make personal at the best of times. After my re-assignment, two years ago, I didn’t bother anymore with making the space mine: it was just a station on the way out. Like in the movies, I want to walk out on my last day of work with just one banker’s box and a smile on my face.



The R word is on everybody’s lips these days. Most often, the  voice of the lucky ones, close to that hallowed status, contain tones of anticipated liberation, while others can only yearn, calculating how many more years until freedom will come to them. Sometimes, questions and concerns arise about falling into an abyss without work. “What are you going to do all day?”


Yes, what? Travel, of course, and being away, and then travel to warm spots again.

But, first what I will do after I wake up, is not getting into get-ready-for-work mode, unless I chose to do so for an event that is not-work. I have no illusions of sleeping in with a cat (the little one in the photo, the black one has died) that is allowed in my bedroom and wakes me mornings with a gentle tap on my closed eyes, my mouth or nose. When I don’t respond, she drags a bit of claw over my skull, enough to be uncomfortable. Once or twice she has taken my nose between her four canines and the rest of the thirty teeth, luckily with not enough force to break my skin, just to warn me it is time to feed her. This week I noticed some tiny, crusty claw marks on my arm, with skin less sensitive, so I did not wake up. I must have been warm and sleeping heavily when she was ready to get up.


The coffee ritual is my daily treat already now, so why change a good thing? I ground my own coffee and brew a cup in my expresso maker. I enjoy it with my toast, religiously protecting this quiet time at the start of my day. After retirement, I might even take a second cup!


Next, I will read the newspaper on my iPad App, a luxury I allow myself on weekends only, but now any day I want to. Can we still call it a newspaper when no paper is involved?


I used to think this national paper was for conservatives, or least the centre/right in the Canadian political spectrum, and I was progressive, so what happened? Had I possibly become conservative over the years? Or did the nation’s conservatives turn ultra conservative, so that my paper needed to object and turn more progressive? Whichever the case might be, it turned out the Globe and Mail is the only national paper that I can stomach.


Harper made Canada look so intolerant with much finger pointing, finding targets for derision in women and members of non-Caucasian groups that I started to feel I should leave this country again. I was very happy that Harper and his crew of ultra conservatives-bordering-on-neo-fascists were thrown out of government. Hurray for common sense! As someone with definitive interests in politics, I just might volunteer with the upcoming preparations for changes in our electoral system, now that I have time on my hands.


But,  as a writer, my real job in retirement will be writing a third novel and entered a course to that purpose through UBC on line by Nancy Lee and Annabel Lyon, BC authors of novels that I enjoyed. I am excited and can’t wait to start this new phase of my life.



My office in Ajijic. Mexico


I will enrol in Spanish lessons. Habla Espanol? and hopefully will make new friends, away from work. img_0453





These photos are of local women and girls for a campaign to eat healthier, as so many in Mexico are overweight, threatening their health, mostly due to the vast amounts of pop and sugary snacks, not indigenous to their culture.


Next time I will write about the first year of retirement.

Please, rate this blog post at the top.  I welcome any comments you may have.

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READY TO KILL YOUR NEIGHBOUR? Strata No-Smoking Policies


In strata complexes all around the nation a battle is going on to make strata buildings smoke free. Stratas are considered private residences, as opposed to public buildings, which house businesses or government services.

Neighbours are not talking to each other. Lines are drawn, the dividing line  the tolerance or intolerance for  smoke in your private space.

Smokers say:
“Oh, just put a fan on your deck if you don’t want any smoke. Live and let live.”
“My deck is my space, and nobody can tell me what to do in my own house.”
“I can’t walk, so I need to smoke on my deck, because I don’t want to smoke inside.”

Non-smokers say:
“Why should I inhale your  smoke that you don’t want to inhale inside your home?”
“What makes you so special that trumps my right to clean air in my own home?”
“I have the right to enjoy my place without you polluting it.”

The British Columbia Tobacco Control Act and Regulations has formulated the policies for public building in B.C. for smokers. This act is already in effect and enforced for many years for public buildings. Evidence of it is that we can see smokers huddle at some distance from doors by an ashtray on a stand, or some kind of cement pillar with a dish filled with sand and cigarette butts. Included in the Act is that smokers need to stay away from open doors, air intakes, and entrances, at a distance to prevent smoke from seeping into buildings through those openings. More restrictions make smokers aware of their habit and maybe that they better make an effort to stop smoking.



It so happens that I live in a strata building; my unit is  is located adjacent to the breezeway. The dryer and stove hood vents are located in that corridor, as well as the fresh air intakes for the forced air heating/cooling.
Most units in my complex are in a two-unit stacked arrangement in blocks of four units, separated by a breezeway. Most decks are situated in that same line.
Except two decks at two different locations  in my block that are built right over the corridor in the breezeway, hanging in space half-way between the ground and the roof.  Those decks are only connected at two sides—to the wall of their respective unit and to the wall of their neighbouring unit across the corridor.



In my case I got the bad fortune to have a smoking neighbour. The “floating” deck of that smoking neighbour is completely open to the front and back.The smoke from the 2 smoking occupants of that unit rises to the ceiling of the breezeway, where the intake vents and exhaust outlets are located. The “fresh” air intake is intended to lead outside air into the furnace, so it can burn properly. When the furnace is not blowing heated air, outside air just rises passively, entering the furnace and just sits there.

That is exactly what happens. The passive air intake fills my duct system with the neighbours smoke. I do not use the A/C and when I can’t avoid it anymore (because it gets hot in the Okanagan Valley), the collected smoke gets blown throughout my home. The same happens when I turn on the heating.



My home stinks like a smokers den. The one neighbour who is at home full time, reading on her deck, seems to be a chain smoker and also smokes marijuana in the afternoons. I am so annoyed because I have given up that habit since my late twenties and chose not to smoke—anything. Period.

Strata councils have a duty to address breaches of the Bylaws with the occupants. The Bylaw breached is: Causing a nuisance that prevents another resident from enjoying their unit.
Since the previous summer I have tried to remedy this smoking issue. I sent a message to the strata council. I have approached the neighbours myself personally and made them aware of my problem with smoke; the problem subsided then for a while.

This year the problem was back in full force. The difference is that this year I am retired from my day job in a public building and am no longer protected from unwanted smoke.
I now work from home. The smoke hits my nose starting at 9:30 and doesn’t let up until I go to bed. It doesn’t matter if inside or outside, as my deck is exposed via the outside as well.

At the last two AGMs the council of my strata complex has made motions to make the whole complex non-smoking. The motion was clumsily formulated, put forward inadequately, and ultimately was defeated. I am left to find my own solutions, as the neighbour continues to smoke herself into the grave.

People don’t like change, and certainly not if it would interfere with their freedoms: What other residents do in their own homes is their problem.

Other stratas have successfully initiated new Bylaws that address the nuisance issue from smoking. One strategy could be to introduce the restrictions step by step, rather then make the whole strata complex non smoking.

The simplest strategy would be to get in line with the already existing overall smoking restrictions in the province by the B.C. Tobacco Control Act and Regulations, and adopt that law for the strata residences. It needs to be spelled out in the Bylaw addressing the nuisance use of residence that the balconies and decks are included in that Bylaw.




Bylaw 3:
Use of property and Strata KAS 1424 Bylaw # 3. RE: Balconies and Decks:
EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY: Smoking is prohibited within 3 meters of the exterior perimeter of the townhouse building, specifically including all windows, doorways, air intakes and balconies. For the present time smoking continues to be permitted within individual residential units.

In this case smoking on all balconies is prohibited. As it concerns a new Bylaw or an amendment to an existing Bylaw, the owners need to ratify this addition at the AGM.

My strata’s council has been unsuccessful in stopping the neighbours’ nuisance. The neighbours and I have been working on a costly solution that might address most of the nuisance problem. I installed a screen on the side of my deck that is exposed to my neighbours’ smoke, entering my deck from along the gable of the building.
My neighbours are installing a same screen along the back of their deck, to stop the smoke from reaching the air intake.

The manufacturer claims that the screen material stops 95% of all air flow from going through. I sure hope so, as I am paying half of the costs of my neighbours’ screen, as well as my own.


Good fences make good neighbours, they say. That applies to strata complexes as well.


Having similar problems? Look up on line what you can do about it. Please, rate and pass on if you think someone else might like this post.

Posted in apartment and condo living; smoking, architecture, Babyboomer, Diversity issues, drug use., Exercise; old age; aging gracefully; yoga practice ; wholesome life, Green living, Kelowna event, latest news items, Retirement, Strata Living, Uncategorized | Leave a comment


image[2]Canadian troops in Holland

Canadian troops entering a small town, liberating the Netherlands (in Dalfsen)

Seventy years after the end of World War II at the height of summer, the Van Noorden family got together on a typical Dutch day with rain drops and fleeting sunshine taking turns in short bursts, making it difficult for the hosts to determine where to stage the seating arrangements.

The habit of meeting had slowly grown over the years and became more formalized after the matriarch, Frieda, passed away at age 89, ten years after her husband, Kaleb, expired from a massive heart attack. If not for Frieda’s birthday, nobody would ever meet again, as Frieda and Kaleb’s offspring were not all that close; even some resentment from childhood years lingered.  However, nobody was yet prepared to let the family fall apart with Frieda’s death and become another alienated family—so many extended family members had died already, alone and estranged.

From then onwards, the Van Noorden relatives met bi-annually: brothers and sisters and their offspring. Recently, after the sudden death of one cousin, (most cousins had attended her funeral after years of alienation), they decided to have a reunion day for the cousins as well. So one day was allocated to the children, and the next day, the cousins on mother’s side would meet.

Kaleb’s relatives were strangers; nobody had met all of Kaleb’s eleven siblings, or even remembered their names.  All members of the war generation had long gone; only stories were left now. The one member who missed most of these gatherings was living in Canada, Wilhelmina, but this time in 2015, she was present.

World War II, a significant event in all of the world’s history, certainly had overshadowed the Van Noorden family. War had already caused a split between twin brother Franz and his sister Frieda during the years of German occupation, although it was unclear to most of the second generation–just children then, or not even born—how and why that happened. It took for them to grow into old age to want to explore those years with each other, finally wondering what kind of people their parents really had been and by extension, why they themselves had become who they are. Betrayal, loyalty, secrecy, and collaboration with the enemy were subjects too sensitive for open discussion. Secrecy had continued after the war; nobody wanted to talk much about those years.


Rotterdam, main harbour city in the west Netherlands after the “Blitzkrieg” 1940.

After the war, life had continued with social changes of tremendous impact for the Dutch. Many disappeared to Canada longing for a clean slate elsewhere, thus escaping the bleak years of rebuilding. Some of the emigrants had been on the wrong side of the war: collaborators with the enemy. Others were women who had met these strapping young Canucks and Yankees and had fallen in love over a liberation libation. Some were left behind, pregnant. Many children with overseas’ fathers were born post war: illegitimate children, as they were called then and some children followed decades later, on a quest to find their dad after their parent’s passion had weakened, but blood ties still pulled.

The Dutch nation felt that they owed their freedom, and even their lives sometimes, to the allied troops:  Canadians and Americans soldiers that liberated the towns and villages in hard-won battles, losing many lives doing it, and cementing Dutch loyalty in post war times.

No surprise then that the youngest of the post war generation, Wilhelmina Van Noorden, left for Canada with her parents’ blessing, to join a Canadian young man she had met on a vacation in that northern land. She was born four years after the war; her name signified a nation’s strong emotional connection to the Dutch royal house and Queen Wilhelmina whose family had been in exile in Canada and had been the Dutch national symbol of strength and loyalty during the German occupation.


Dresden bombed flat near the end of war in 1945, with more civilians dead than Nagasaki and Hiroshima put together.

War is a strange paradigm for life; it had never been real to Wilhelmina, although it overshadowed her life, nevertheless. In grade school her post war generation was extensively educated on the perils of discrimination and intolerance with examples of what had happened during WWII. At a young age Wilhelmina saw photos and movies of live skeletons with hollow eyes that had survived the concentration camps—people that were Jewish, homosexual, developmentally delayed, or otherwise disabled or punishable in the eyes of the Nazi-German administration.  These survivors, originating not only from Germany, but also from the Nazi-occupied territories including the Netherlands, had been shipped into cattle rail cars and brought to near-extinction in German extermination camps, transfer and forced labour camps.  The children were shown in grainy black-and white videos and photos piles as high a house, made up of millions of bones of the actually exterminated—six million persons gone–and piles of suitcases, and boots, and hair to be used for pillow fill, and large open dug outs with emaciated bodies, not even covered by dirt, as the last of the German staff had fled. Actual ovens burned many people in a very organized manner. She even saw photos of lampshades made of human skin, and basins full of gold ripped from mouths.

All of the atrocious facts of that particular war were scary mysteries to Wilhelmina; how could this have existed? How could people let that happen to other people, to children, to their neighbours and their close friends? For Wilhelmina it was like a Grimm’s tale of horror and indeed, like many other children, she was traumatized for life, because it wasn’t just a story. In adolescence she became a pacifist, flirted with communism, and rejected conformism passionately. She did not readily accept her parents’ limits when the limits made no sense. She excelled in high school academically, but battled the authorities, which cost her with extra years to learn to comply. She left home and parental control as soon as she could.

As an adult, Wilhelmina became a passionate advocate for the lost and vulnerable, unable to become anything else under the brutal post-war education that lasted for years, and probably still carries on today in present-day Holland in a similar nothing-to-hide vein. The intent and motivation could be explained, sure. After the war, children embodied their parents’ hope for a better future for the nation, for the world. No wonder this generation of children were the love children and despised war: Make love, not war.

The sad part of the Dutch history is that the intent of education was the prevention of future genocide, although probably fuelled by guilt feelings. The Netherlands (and Britain, France, Belgium, the USA, all other nations involved) could have prevented millions of deaths, had they recognized in time what the Nazi regime was up to, and been less politically naïve about the Nazi goals and the Hitler politics, and had they recognized the envious, angry, anti-Semite in themselves, enough to stand up and arm themselves earlier and put aside their differences for the purpose of  peace, and not for  the accumulation of  territory. But somebody had to be blamed for poverty and stock market crash of 1929 and the following depression…

Hitler was successfully elected, and welcomed in the  German speaking neighbouring countries, because  he promised jobs and the restoration of honour and German pride in their nation, and he put the money where his mouth was, with extensive allocation of government money towards infra structure building rods and bridges and  electricity lines (and in secret, war equipment). Unemployment disappeared.


Syria in ruins

Other wars have started since; genocide was repeated. The United Nations had replaced the League of Nations–powerless before de war—which seems equally powerless to stop aggressive invasions without the presence of an impending war. Examples enough:  USA in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia in the Ukraine, Britain in the Falklands, and so on. Those that did not learn, are condemned to repeat history. The Jews of today are Muslims, Mexicans, Koptic Christians, Tootsies, Suni Muslims, fill in the blanks.

There are more people on the move now than after the second world war. Have we,  the human race,  learned anything yet?

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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,100 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 35 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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For the SAIL AMSTERDAM event I coincidentally happened to be in the city for a family reunion weekend; prior to this weekend event I stayed with my sister in Amsterdam. As the only one who emigrated, this trip is an expensive one that I could not make each year. This year I decided to be there, as we are all getting older and some of us already are hitting the eighty-year old bar, scary enough! As a warning to all of us, one of my cousins – just a few years ahead of me – had already passed away by a massive heart infarct. Memento Mori!

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SAIL Amsterdam is an event organized by the City of Amsterdam and the SAIL Foundation with its partner, ACE Concept & Events and takes place every five years. The goal as explained on its website:
• Promoting the city and Port of Amsterdam, the North Sea Canal Area and the municipalities within the Area.
• Fostering interest in classic sailing ships, round and flat bottoms, training ships and the like.
• Inspiring enthusiasm in younger audiences in regards to sailing at sea and inland, and also in Dutch seafaring and its history.

Amsterdam has a centuries-old harbour and was the trade centre for all of the Netherlands in its early days, as most would know. The Red Light District adjacent to the harbour in the heart of old Amsterdam is well known across the world, which is a by-product of seamen and other travellers coming to the city for a brief stay and in need of sexual relief after long days away from their usual go-to-girls. The Dutch of course deal with this phenomenon as a matter of fact and out in the open, as with anything. No, no photos here of that; you will just have to visit.

The Netherlands is often called Holland, which are the names of the two most important provinces in the nation (North – and South-Holland), where the astonishingly rich merchants’ home were located on its canals, and where the Rembrandts of that time plied their trade, documenting the wealth and importance of these nouveau riches. The fact is that these are only two of 12 provinces that currently make the nation: the Netherlands started as a republic of seven provinces that were more like merchants’ fiefdoms.
Holland’s history as a seafaring and trading nation is not as pretty as the pretty looks of the city may lead us to believe.
From Wikipedia:
“The Trade Companies were the most feared merchandizing competition around the world, specifically for the trade in spices and, to our shame, also of slaves in its day, as early as the 1600.
The United East Indian Company (Dutch: Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie; VOC), referred to by the British as the Dutch East India Company, was originally established as a chartered company in 1602, when the Dutch government granted it a 21-year monopoly on Dutch spice trade. It is often considered to have been the first multinational corporation in the world and it was the first company to issue stock. It was a powerful company, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies.

2015 trip to Amsterdam 377

Statistically, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods
By contrast, the rest of Europe combined sent only 882,412 people from 1500 to 1795, and the fleet of the English (later British) East India Company, the VOC’s nearest competitor, was a distant second to its total traffic with 2,690 ships and a mere one-fifth the tonnage of goods carried by the VOC. The VOC enjoyed huge profits from its spice monopoly through most of the 17th century.
(My addition: little of the wealth was turned over to the local population. When rebellions broke out among the locals, the Dutch army suppressed those in bloody fashion.)

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2015 trip to Amsterdam 374

2015 trip to Amsterdam 375

Having been set up in 1602, to profit from the Malukan spice trade, in 1619 the VOC established a capital in the port city of Jayakarta and changed the city name into Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia). Over the next two centuries the Company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory. It remained an important trading concern and paid an 18% annual dividend for almost 200 years.
Weighed down by corruption in the late 18th century, the Company went bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1800.
After their advances in the East, the Dutch merchants went also westwards. From Wikipedia: From On June 3, 1621, it (the West Indian Company) was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the West Indies (meaning the Caribbean) by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and given jurisdiction over the Atlantic slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. The area where the company could operate consisted of West Africa (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Cape of Good Hope) and the Americas, which included the Pacific Ocean and the eastern part of New Guinea. The intended purpose of the charter was to eliminate competition, particularly Spanish or Portuguese, between the various trading posts established by the merchants. The company became instrumental in the Dutch colonization of the Americas.”

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So far Wikipedia; thank you, writers.
In modern times, all major cruise lines stop in the region at the terminal at IJmuiden (the Felison Cruise Terminal) just before the locks of IJmuiden, which form the connection between the Noord Zee North Sea) kanaal (canal) and the Noord Zee. To enter the waterways, ships have to go through locks, as the level of all inner waterways in the Netherlands are tightly controlled, so the tides and extreme climates have no effect. The North Sea Canal is 272 meters wide and 20 km long (11 nautical miles).

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2015 trip to Amsterdam 181

2015 trip to Amsterdam 182

Like most, also the Dutch got smart at their peril, through a severe flood in 1953 that caused many deaths: dyke breaks after extreme windstorms and a flash tide flooded the country in its south west corner. The Dutch invented extreme ways in controlling the water in response top this national disaster. I still remember the trucks going door to door to collect clothing and bedding and other donations for the victims; although I was a four year old, I was crying over having to part with my beautiful, wool cape.
Anybody interested in the ingeneering feats should visit the Delta Werken and the Afsluitdijk: engeneering marvels that closed off open the waters connected to the Noord Zee (North Sea) and the large dyke that blocked off the inner sea – IJsselmeer. All ships coming from the North Sea and the Channel must pass through the locks to access the waterways of the hinterland: the nations beyond and the Rijn (Rhine) river.

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The terminal in Amsterdam (Passenger Terminal Amsterdam) is fantastically situated in the city centre. Both terminals offer a high level of service and easily meet the requirements that shipping companies place on docks. What’s more, the terminals are located just a short distance from Schiphol Airport. “The good connection with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol is ideal from IJmuiden”, explains the captain of the Prinsendam. The surrounding region is another reason for shipping companies to choose Amsterdam and IJmuiden as a port of call. As far as possible, the greatest compliment for the ports was made by the captain of the L’Austral (Compagnie du Ponant): “Sailing into Amsterdam continues to be one of the best experiences for a captain and his passengers.”
The SAIL event has become the maritime event of peaceful and enjoyable social-cultural happenings for locals and visitors alike, with the traditional Tall Ships and other programming in and around the IJ-haven, including a host of big and small events. Quoted from the SAIL website:

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“The Port of Amsterdam has been SAIL’s nautical partner from the outset. The inaugural edition of SAIL took place in 1975, organised as part of celebrations marking Amsterdam’s 700th jubilee. Entitled ‘SAIL Amsterdam 700’, the event saw ships from all corners of the world invited to moor in Amsterdam. And they were pleased to make the trip! Over the decades, SAIL has evolved from a celebration for Amsterdam into a celebration for everyone! The ships go on to visit other cities over the world, although this year’s even – the ninth in Amsterdam – was the best ever with the most tall ships visiting since its inception. The SAIL Amsterdam Foundation worked together with SAIL Event Partners for the very first time.”

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In the days when Tall Ships remain in Amsterdam harbor, many other events – classic music concerts on the classic ships, pop and jazz shows, special contests for the young, demonstrations by the Dutch Navy, and fireworks shows make Sail Amsterdam a fantastic and unique festivity. Sail Amsterdam is a free event. You may watch the ships’ parade from different spots in the city. All concerts are also free and so is admission to the ships to visit them.

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The most fun part of the event for me was to see all those other traditional and heritage ships and smaller boats, and anything that can float and was registered (=allowed to participate in the fleet) cruising along in the waters and accompanying each of the Tall Ships to their mooring spot in the Amsterdam Port. The comparison of a giant engulfed by a large swarm of bees came to mind. Especially fun was watching the one ferry that remained active during the sail-in parade, darting across the IJ between ships and boats, right through the mayhem, to take its passengers across. It must have taken skill to not run over others.
An enormous fleet of flotsam and jetsam was swarming the stars of the event, many starting from the point after the docks of the port of Ijmuiden all the way to their docking sites in Amsterdam Port, a trip of about ½ hour per car. The maximum speed limit for boats on the North Sea Canal, IJ, and IJhaven (Oranjehaven) during the SAIL-In Parade (19 August) was 6 km/h.

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The Tall Ships that attended can all be seen on the website of Sail and are spectacular, worthwhile looking at and reminding ourselves of their history.

My sister and I decided last minute that since this event is here, we probably should make an effort to attend. We have not a moment regretted that decision. Actually, she and I went twice. First to see the float of 70 tall ships on their sail-in parade and then to send them off.

We left home early to ensure we even would have a spot to watch from; we crossed the IJ on the ferry with hundreds of others with the same idea, to watch from the island across from Centraal Station. We ended up sitting on the cement, on the terraced patio in front of the Eye building, where we clung onto to a spot on the floor by the waterfront of about 2 square meters, defending our spot against all invaders that begrudged us our first-row seats. We had miscalculated that the Eye might be open and its patio, but it was closed for a private event: for special Burghers only. Well, I guess we were not special.

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Together with thousands of other celebrants, we sat and sat for hours. This was when we had some snappy responses to those who tried to impinge on our spot (some mother who thought that her brood was special) and we told them to go somewhere else, as this place was full. After 3 hours, when my behind was beginning to feel numb (we had not brought any folding stools, or pillows) the first ships sailed in about 2 PM. The Dutch ship Stad Amsterdam was leading in full sail mode, impressive. Yes, it made my breath halt in my throat and my heart fill up with pride, against my expectations, as I am pretty much a sceptic on nationalistic feelings. I even have Canadian citizenship now, but – you can’t take Holland out of the woman.

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Hours later ships were still coming in, 70 ships in all — a very large number at that pace of 6 km/hr. By this time at 6 PM my body protested and we went off to eat and sit in a real chair on the patio of a restaurant, further down the waterfront. From here we saw the tail of the Sail-in while eating and drinking in comfort.
The sun was off and on hiding behind the clouds during the day and it had spattered a bit with some drops earlier, but now the sun was out steady. We walked along the ships docked already at this side of the IJ and had a little chat with the sailors on the Tarangini from India, officers by the looks of their uniforms and proud of it! They were very open to chatting; the pleasure was mutual.

My second time was when the ships were all moored off a day or two later. A good friend of mine and I went to visit the ships to take in the sights and enjoy the atmosphere; some ships were open for visitors. As there was no line-up to get on as with other ships, we happened to visit the ……. . bumping into the captain, a short, thin man in his early fifties, the size of my friend, not more than 5 feet 2 or so. His relatives were visiting, apparently his wife and some others, children included. He was sure a proud man, but completely remaining in his role.

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On the front deck of the ship a statue of the virgin-mother Maria was temporarily attached to the steering house, with a protective roof made of fresh flowers.

I held the camera over my head (portholes were too high for me to have a peek) and snap a photo from the kitchen, curious what it might look like, and saw later that the cook was making some treats.

Other ships were having private parties for invited guest only. It was a lively evening and at the end of every day, fireworks.
There was plenty to eat and drink at mobile kitchens with instant patios and at existing cafes on the various quays that hosted the ships. To my embarrassment I have to say that we did not go any further than the first quay with the Bim Huis concert hall closest to the Centraal Station, as the event was just too large to see all of the ships and to wander along all of the quays.
In spite of the many visitors, the quays are wide and accommodating and it was very comfortable in my opinion. We had some snacks and some glasses of wine in several locations along the route.
Of course, when in Amsterdam, do as they do and take public transit. Even if you don’t want to, there is no choice: no vehicle traffic is allowed at the event and to all of its venues. Extra ferries were put in service and extra access to walking routes, as all roads were now open for walkers/closed for cars (only emergency vehicles).
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The third time, my sister and I sent the tall ships off on departure day. We experienced the wind-down of the event: the crew climbing into the wands, balancing on the beams and tucking in the sails, manoeuvring like fearless trapeze artists to make the ship ready. Captains of different ranks whistling their specific tunes, with crews responding telling us the code. Goodbye bands on deck were playing salsa and mambo to the crowds. Finally, with all hands on deck, and girlfriends dancing on the quay before sailing off, the final goodbyes; there they went, to a next port and new loves….

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On that day, the crowds were stupendous, and even the Crowd Management officials had trouble keeping things moving along. By sheer luck we had elected to have a beer and escape the crowds a bit, by withdrawing at a patio table of a café on the quay, right across from the ships that were a lot of fun to watch a few moments later. These ships had brought their own bands: the South American Guayas from Ecuador and its neighbour the Arc Gloria from Columbia.
The crews visibly enjoyed the spectacle and all the attention from the crowd, especially from the young nubile maidens that were lined up on the quay and were handing them flowers, papers with addresses, kisses, etc. Oh, how I wished to have been young…I would have been there in that line-up. We saw the responses from the young handsome sailors, joshing with each other while standing on board at the “all hands on deck” signal, just as cute as anything in their pride of their conquests, and this sceptic – me – loved seeing that. Oh, the promise of love is international and universal…

It was overall a very festive and unusual atmosphere in Amsterdam, in spite of the sometimes overwhelming crowds and the slow pace of everything, much like a big family party, as if we all knew each other. It brought the world together over ships from Germany, France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Ecuador, Colombia, Poland, USA, Chili, Russia, Czech Republic, Sierra Leone, India, and Australia.

If there was any discord, it might have been the presence of the Chilean ship Esmeralda, under protest of former prisoners and their relatives who were picketing and has a banner strung in front of the ship; with the question: Where are our relatives2015 trip to Amsterdam 423?


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The Esmeralda was notorious for having been an instrument of the Pinochet regime that had thrown over the democratic government of president Allende (of course we all know, aided by the American CIA) and on which many political prisoners were tortured and killed, to never been seen again.
Of course, our marine force enjoys the free advertising by SAIL although no visible signs are offered. Sailing also engulfs military interests and right in the harbour is the Ship Museum. Quite a few of the Tall Ships participating were training ships, run by countries, no doubt subsidized by their governments, I am sure, and indirectly used as an enticement to “join the marines”. Although sailing is not any longer part of current warfare, military training, precision and quick follow through on commands were obvious, necessary to operate the ships and keep them functional.

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The old Port of Amsterdam is lined with many old buildings along the quays where ships were unloaded and loaded; these three-story packing houses were storage facilities in the olden days, but now have been converted, or were rebuilt, to modern apartments – of course a very desirable spot to live, and not cheap. It area has become a gentrified area with new restaurants and other shops appearing, such as Jamie Oliver’s place, called NINE.

All in all I enjoyed Sail very much, even with all the crowds.

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Park Guell

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Park Guell was started in 1900 outside of Barcelona as a development for homes, to allow for people to live in a new suburb that was planned for the expansion of Barcelona; the city’s walls had been torn down some fifty years earlier. The new neighbourhood, yet in the middle of nowhere, was called the ‘Eixample’ and was designed by engineer Ildefons Cerda, as an addition to fast growing Barcelona, to accommodate a new city with a modern attitude, effective, healthier and fairer than the old city, in the spirit of the Modernist movement.

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At the time, the city had about half a million residents and was fast growing with the expansion of industry, and on the search for a new image as a nationalist, Catalan region in an expansionary mood — reborn. The architect Antoni Gaudi fit very well with this vision and he embodied all that was Modernism. The parallel movements elsewhere in Europe were Liberty, Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, and Sezession. Modernism went beyond architecture and art, also encompassing the language, literature and music. In architecture, forms derived from nature became the model for both structural and ornamental facets of construction.

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Gaudi went very much farther in his expression of modernism and art nouveau by being modern, but not denouncing tradition. He used the Catalan vault and old craft styles, but also was taking an interest in the expressive potential of iron. Specific to Gaudi was his extremely religious bend, as a Roman Catholic devout man. His final life’s work was of course the Basilica I Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia. His nick name became “God’s Architect”.

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The Eixample neighbourhood expanded rapidly, and was especially liked by the bourgeoisie who settled there, with industrial development on its outskirts occupied by modern industries. The clean slate nature of the development provide opportunities for architects for using the new modernist styles. Most of Gaudi’s buildings are found in this neighbourhood.

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This is a photo of the Sagrada Familia model of how the weight of the roof would exert pressure on the walls and pillars. The model is upside down, to use gravity to measure the weight.

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Instead of drawing his construction plans and blue prints for a building, he preferred to create them as a three dimensional scale model and adjusted the details as he conceived them.

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He used the Park Guell in that way as well, and used various styles of traditional building to construct the galleries of local rock, but with a twist. He played around with the regular style of building a large space covered by a roof in traditional Gothic, Roman and Greek construction, where symmetry and upright pillars that supported a roof, were the basic forms. Gaudi, however, made the pillars slanted and leaning in opposite directions, even the roofs were leaning, everything seems out of its natural position, and yet, it works and the end product, the building, is solid. Gaudi was advancing construction theory and architecture with leaps and even maybe light years ahead.

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Unfortunately, Park Guell failed as an urbanisation project in the new development of Eixample, as it was too far away from the city for commuters, transportation was an issue, it was located in dry, desert country, without vegetation or reliable water sources, in short, too much of a challenge. The developer built one home, the model home so to speak. It stood empty and was not sold. Eventually, Gaudi moved in with his ailing mother and a cousin. He was said to have received one male friend occasionally. The house is now a museum with furniture designed by Gaudi.

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To protect him and his company from prying eyes, he constructed an arbour with vines, to protect from view and create privacy.

Eventually, one more house was constructed where private owners still live there now. The hill was irrigated and planted with drought resistant trees and shrubs. It would be a lovely place to live now.

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In one area, on the highest spot in the park, a replica Mount of Golgotha is located with the three crosses, as a warning to remember the religious tenet of Christianity, the crucifixion of Jesus to relieve the sins of the world.

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Gaudi was a proud Catalan and believed that Mediterranean people were gifted with creativity, originality and an innate sense for art and design. I would have to agree with him. He created the custom of using discarded pottery for the art form of mosaic.

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This was the arch of the wave, a realistic expression of the surf: a liquid wave — in stone.

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The statue of mother earth.

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Park entrance, and the staircase with the large mosaic dragon (icon in the city’s emblem) and open mouth of the snake.  The snake carries on into the design in the seats on the patio above.

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As the weather is brilliantly sunny and people seek shade and shelter from the blazing sun, the galleries all through the park are not only decorative, but very functional. The gallery behind the park entrance is made of pillars supporting a roof and is the largest gallery of pillars. It is part of the entrance stairway and is covered by a terrace, where I could easily envision community parties and receptions taking place, with a great view of the city and the park.

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The seats of the bench that lines the edges of the roof top all around are ergonomically designed, have drain holes in the back rest which collect the water and drain it through pipes that are hidden in the pillars underneath, carrying the water to large cisterns—in case it rains. The water can be filtered and used.  It is also used to fill the pond at the bottom of the stairs.

The gallery below is a palace in its size although it is not used for anything at this time, other than marvelling about its feel of space and coolness, and its construction. Also here in this gallery, not simply a set of straight pillars holding a roof. No, the lean is obvious when physically there, but hard to catch in photos.  The opposing forces of the pillars are creating a brilliant protection overheard.

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From the patio on the roof, a staircase winds down to the central plaza of the entrance. Two smaller houses are flanking the entrance: real fairy tale homes, with each a mushroom on its roof: one poisonous, the other edible, but oh, so alike. Only someone who knows about nature and mushrooms could tell the difference…A  grotto with fresh water  is also located at the entrance.

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From this location, the entrance can be best admired with its staircase, as the main event amidst the competing multitude of visuals to take in.

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After all of this in the hot summer sun, I have to admit I was pretty wiped. I didn’t mount the stairs to see the inside of the fairy tale house.  I just sat and have a coffee, overwhelmed by the genius of Gaudi and his outrageous creativity….that’s when my travel companion snapped me…

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The city is full of interesting buildings, has large lunch and dinner crowds, has a vibrant night life, with various types of performances in many beautiful venues. The province of Cataluña is fiercely nationalistic and residents like to see themselves as Catalonians first, and secondly as Spaniards. All public signs have the Catalonian language first, then Spanish and third English.

In recent times, the bullfights have ended in Cataluña, the province where Barcelona is located. Bullfighting and the debate about its abolishment was arguably used by political factions as an issue of Catalan’s striving for independence. That is for me a plus, because now I do not have to agonize over whether to condemn it or go see it.
Bullfighting has been an inherent part of the culture and was so much part of the Spanish identity that it was called “fiesta nacional”. The opera Carmen has a toreador in a main role. It also was exported to other Spanish speaking parts of the world in different forms, with or without the bull’s death as end goal: Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru and parts of Southern France, and also is practised in Portugal. Public outcry about the cruel nature of the game with the bull (corrida de toros) has finally led to the game’s death in Cataluña. In other parts of the world sparring with the bull or with baby cows (calf roping) is also seen in rodeos and western events all over the world (e.g. Calgary stampede).
The stance of the toreros (charros in Mexico) and the matador (who kills the bull) and their specific costumes were carried on elsewhere, as I recognized it in the costumes of the Mariachi bands in Mexico; the pattern of embroidery along the seams of the very tight pants accentuate the powerful muscles in the legs and buttocks, much to my delight as I watched the Mariachi. The term machismo also is obviously related to Spanish culture; no need to explain.
Now back to modern day Barcelona. We saw a flamenco performance in a beautiful medieval building (16th century), called Palau Dalmases. The group was called Esai Barroc. Two female dancers, a guitarist and a percussionist gave a performance of about an hour and a half, with a glass of something included in the ticket price. It was much different from previous Flamenco performers I have seen, more modern and with improved fluency, accessible for foreigners, but not less dramatic. The dancers were very young.

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After the performance having drinks, while  people watching on one of the many patios seemed mandatory, and very enjoyable in the warm evening. We ended up, I suspect, in a largely gay neighbourhood, on Placa de Palau, as all we saw were gay couples and groups, apart from the pub crawl guided tour of a mixed gender group that loudly went through the area called El Born. A local resident had hung a display from her balcony that read: “SILENCIO, please show respect!”
Barcelona has many squares and unsuspected openings in a street where a patio is created, a true paradise for people watchers and imbibers. I am describing the Barre la Barceloneta and Barre Gotic (neighbourhoods) and El Born where you can stroll for hours and enjoy what you encounter. We stumbled on the opening of an archaeological museum with an exposed dig right in the middle of the talking heads giving their two cents worth, or rather, two reals worth. This was a 20th century fruit market and when they abandoned the market to dig it up for new construction, they found a much older site beneath it from the 18th century.

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We discovered a large park with a boulevard (Parc de la Ciutadella) where on an early evening we saw the locals parading, strolling and recreating – see and be seen – before the evening meal. It reminded me of days gone by in small town Spain where all freshly washed young people went around in circles with under the watchful eyes of their aunt and mothers, and the fathers as well, boys going one way, the girls the other way. That’s where I first smelled that delicious fragrance of the lilies of the valley and Maja soap. The small bright green parakeets were very noisy overhead in the trees, but hard to spot between the greenery.

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In the middle of the park sat a deserted fountain, of which the water had been shut off. Behind it was a building with some rooms that could have been converted to a lovely park retreat. Anyway, it was quiet and nice to see.

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Of course, with the beach right there a five minute walk, we had to spend some time relaxing, swimming and enjoying yet another glass of Cava with patatas bravas, that dish of delicious, crisply fried potatoes with soft insides covered with a very garlicky aioli sauce, ummmmmmm. We wondered what that golden fish in the distance could be. It changed colour from just a metal grey-ish structure to a softly gleaming gold, beautiful, and we did find out later. The bulky guys were the haulers of the lounge beds and parasols, we found out, not very friendly, and ripping us off for the fee that suddenly changed from the quoted 1 Euro to 8 Euro when it was time to pay up.

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Walking towards the casino along a main artery, Calle del Doctor Aiguader, we passed another important venue: Barcelona is also the home of the Barcelona Futbal Club, an important part of the Catalan identity. We happened to walk by one evening on our discovery trip to the casino.

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Barcelona has many modern buildings many of which were built when the World Expo was here. The gas building is a miracle of steel and glass that we liked. Surprisingly an old turret with a Moorish flavour sat next to it.

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We found out that the fish we saw from the downtown beach was part of the casino and its hotel and is located in the Olympic port, created in 1992 for the Olympic Games. The fish is a whale and consists of a metal grate as it where over a metal pole structure, and is completely open to rain and wind.
That area of the city away from the downtown by a 15 minute walk was completely full with local visitors and contained many entertaining ventures, clubs and bars, marvelous beaches with amenities, change rooms and showers, and restaurants, along a very long promenade all along the beach until one reaches the more touristic areas of the city. A poker tournament was happening that weekend. I played the roulette and lost my few Euros in a hurry, as they had no .50 ct chips and I had to play with 5 Euro chips per bet!

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Another day we walked quite aimlessly and always discovered something worthwhile to see.

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We spent one day on visiting Park Guell, pronounce: [gway], with a very soft g and no l. The double ll in Spanish is pronounced as the English y, as in yoke. This park was the creation of Gaudi as well. It was meant to be a modern development out of town for those who wanted peace and quiet and more space in a natural environment. This project completely failed in its goal: only two houses were built of which only one house was sold; eventually, Gaudi moved into the show home with his mother and cousin where she died, looked after in her last years by nuns. Gaudi moved into the workshop of the Sagrada Familia where he spent the last year of his life.

The next post will be about Park Guell, which deserves its own blog posts.

I hope you like the Barcelona you see here in this post, as my travel panion and I went by it and enjoyed it. What you are missing are the sounds, and especially the smells of Barcelona  as fish is plenty and sewers too, which are not the greatest smells on earth, to be frank..

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My travel companion

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This summer I was in Barcelona for a few days to see the sights and especially some of Spanish (Catalan) architect Antoni Gaudi’s buildings. Besides architecture, Gaudi was also skilled in carpentry, glass making, and a locksmith and was the son of a copper smith. He built a number of private homes for the bourgeoisie, such as Casa Calvet, Casa Batllo, and Casa Milo, as well as the cathedral Sagrada Familia.

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The Passion Entrance (West)

Gaudi is a representative of the modernist style of architecture that followed the more classical styles of building starting after World War 1 and before 1970. It also generally includes Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Courbusier, Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus school. European modernists combined morality and social consciousness (e.g. using local materials and local man power, function was important), and were generally associated with left wing politics.
Gaudi combined the Byzantine and Gothic styles and came to his own forms that appear so out of step with anything that had been done before that he has become his own category and is still considered at the top of the profession. He expressed the Christian iconography and his own strong belief in the religion in this temple. He also invented advanced construction in logical designs and built daring structures with new techniques that he had experimented with elsewhere in his buildings.

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The Nativity entrance (East)

Before our arrival in Barcelona, we had bought entry tickets on line, as I had heard that the line-ups are tremendous, so we wanted to avoid wasting our precious time standing in line for hours. Sure, the places are inundated, and rather annoyingly so, with tourists, but since I am one too, who am I to object? There is a goo reason why people flock…
I was accompanied by a like-minded friend from my student days at the Amsterdam Rietveld Academy, so we both are interested in art and beautiful things. We have been friends for ages, so we knew we are compatible in a lot of ways, such as both liking good food and drinks as well!

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Detail of the Nativity Entrance

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The Christmas tree as symbol of nature on top of the Nativity entrance

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Detail of the Passion entrance. The Star Wars-like figures are Roman soldiers,  the man to the left of them has the face of Gaudi.

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Our first goal was the Sagrada Familia, translated: the Family Church. It is a Roman Catholic temple, a church, although this is an understatement: the building is unique, one of kind and truly awe inspiring.Interestingly, Gaudi never had a family himself en lived with his aging mother and a cousin. He was said to have a (male) friend as well.
We both are not religious. Although I was raised in a strict protestant religion, my friend was not raised in any religion and was rather unaware of the symbols and stories of the bible and Christianity. In spite of it, we appreciate any expression of spiritual ecstasy in art and creativity. Gaudi sure knew how to do that! I have not seen such display of ecstasy and virtuosity in construction. He was a genius. The Christian symbolism and details were very well explained by our English speaking guide. The tour lasted 1 ½ hour and was very enlightening; our understanding would have been much less without it. If you think admiring only the outside is enough, you would be wrong. The best parts in my view are inside and seen during day time, so the light that comes in through the fantastic windows can delight the visitor.

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The Sagrada Familia is a work in progress that began in 1866, its design taken over by Gaudi in 1883 and it was only in its beginning stages of construction, after Gaudi was run over by a tram and died on his way to the hospital in 1926. The entrance depicting the Nativity of Jesus was finished by another architect, as well as most of the present building, with the help of many other architects, volunteers and builders. Five generations of Barcelonans have witnessed the construction. It is expected to be completed in 11 years, by 2026. I plan on visiting then again, even if it will be in a wheel chair.

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The slow pace of construction is the result of the condition that the church should be built exclusively from donations, as in the olden days of the start of cathedral building. A useful book to read about that subject is Ken Follett’s work The Pillars of the Earth. The entry fees are allocated towards that construction as well, so the more people attend, the quicker its completion. Unfortunately, parts are already deteriorating, so renovating is also an issue. The parts that are replaced, are kept clearly distinct, so we can see it is not original. This is a condition from the Unesco cultural branch that designated the Sagrada Familia a world heritage site. More detail can be explored on its website http://www.sagradafamilia.org

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All light is natural light coming in through coloured glass and  stained glass windows, as well as ingeniously designed windows with built-in skylights.

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The west windows where the afternoon/evening light comes in.

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The idea was to bring nature into the lives of believers and it sure looks like a forest  in which the pillars carry a canopy of exotic medallions as flowers, all of which carry names of saints and disciples.

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As the social aspects are important to builders of the Modernists era, a school annex daycare was also attached and can be seen to the far right of the church.

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Back of the day care building.

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Waving walls of the children’s day care…looks like a fairy tale house.

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The   fourth aisle with the last facade and main entrance being constructed  towards the South.

An interesting detail is that already an apartment building has been constructed on the spot designated for a large set of stairs and a square in front of  that main entrance. The builder knew that this was designated, but apparently had little faith that the church would eventually be completed as per Gaudi’s design.

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One of the towers beside the Passion entrance

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View from the West tower…

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Fruits on top of the south buildings

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The fruit is made of mosaics; symbols of the bounty of nature and creation. If you ask me it looks like something else…

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Jesus up close from behind…..

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Detail from one of the towers….

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Can you believe it! Selfie sticks for sale, so you as visitor can put yourself in the photo with the Sagrada… the mind boggles.

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The North

Belonging means to be accepted by those around you. I finally started to have an inkling what that meant as a new immigrant when I was pregnant. Many people began to be so nice to me, even total strangers, their faces became softer when they met me, something I did initially not relate to being pregnant. I just thought that people here were nicer in this part of the province, the north, as they all had come from somewhere else.

After my daughter’s birth, this trend continued and visitors arrived with gifts. I didn’t know what happened to me, all this attention and concern with us, where did that come from? I felt in the centre of attention, it felt as if in a warm bath. What had I done to deserve this? Slowly it seeped into my awareness what had opened the door. Giving birth was the Open Sesame to the cave of all mothers’ hearts. They remembered, they recalled, they softened.

Simply as a person, a woman, nice or not, there is no easy point of recognition with others, especially when she is a foreigner. Getting to know someone is work, it requires a reason to start it, and a clear goal. The intent is there: be nice, don’t say anything at all if you can’t say anything nice, we are polite, but more was needed to break the shell of my foreignness.

Canadians travel, they share stories of were they are from, and how they got where they are. Without it, there is no shared history. My history is not yours, there were no overlapping points, which made it so much harder for the home grown Canadians.

First Nation Canadians recount their family and tribe relationships when they meet, who are their father, mother, and their grandparents, cousins, from where they came, and where they are going. The drawing of the geno map divines the relation; relationship ensures that their children will be healthy and no blood relatives. Kidnappings were sometimes needed to ensure fresh blood in the tribe, and a new mother for children.

It made sense for me to travel to meet my young man, to have children in this far away, cold country. Three years of struggle followed to find some comfort in this foreign land, to build an existence, until my child was born.
I have no words enough for describing this most unrelenting, life-giving force I have experienced in my life: the creation from my own cells over nine month’s time and its final explosion, the birth of my child.

Birth is an overwhelming event, but almost as important was that the women around me mothered me, supported me, and understood me without words. After my child’s birth, I was beginning to understand other mothers on a sensory and emotional level. They shared their own sorrows and joys with me; we became a sisterhood of women with small children: Moms and Tots.

For six long years I felt the embrace of friendship and shared motherhood with a group of women, until a move was unavoidable and my family left for another province. Friendships had formed that proved to be unaffected by the ravages of distance, although our tots now have become the new Millennials. We became family in spirit, sisters in motherhood, and are preparing for sharing time into old age.

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